There are thousands of reasons why I run. It’s my alone time. It’s my social time. It’s my chance to connect with nature. It exhausts me. It energizes me. It gives me confidence and it makes me doubt myself. It makes me feel alive. Heart beating in my throat, legs screaming, sweat stinging my eyes, gasping for breath to fill my lungs. There is no truer expression of celebrating my body than by pushing it to its limits.
But therein lies the problem: my body has limits. I’ve toed that fine line a few times over the past couple years but have avoided serious injury since February of 2013. I do all the right stuff. I strength train. I take rest days. I do yoga and eat lots of anti-inflammatory foods and sleep 8 hours a night. I try to listen to my body, even if it is telling me the exact opposite of what I want to hear. Recently my body has been talking loudly and I’ve had to make some tough decisions based on what it’s been telling me. It’s been a few months since my last blog, so let me bring you up to speed. Buckle up.
This summer has been a roller coaster. Back in June I was diagnosed with a torn labrum in my hip and for a while I thought I had a broken foot. I spent almost a month pool running and yoga-ing my heart out. I was forced to miss the Dipsea and the Double Dipsea races. Things turned around finally and I was able to get in a few months of good, although reduced training for the Tamalpa Headlands 50k. I raced the Table Rock 30k during my buildup, podiumed, and got a shred of confidence back.
Come August I felt strong and ready to tackle the 50k. But I was so nervous. How would my hip hold up? Would my stomach turn on me again? Had I done enough training to be competitive? A few days before the race, after working myself up into a frenzy, it dawned on me that I needed to chill the eff out and view this race as a celebration. A celebration of my body and my hard work and this amazing community of runners. It might not end up being the race I wanted, but I’d smile and celebrate every step. Because, heck, three months ago I had convinced myself that I’d never run again. (So dramatic, I know.)
Long story short, the race was amazing. All the pieces came together. My bum hip, which had hurt pretty much all the time in training, only acted up a few times. Fueling was not a problem. I had endless amounts of energy. I really, really enjoyed myself. There was even a moment of sadness as I neared mile 29, realizing that the journey was almost over. I soaked in those last few steps and crossed the finish line 30 minutes faster than I did last year.
I recovered quickly and jumped back into training and racing. A week after the 50k, I raced 3.4 miles and 2,500 feet up Mount Tam in the annual Labor Day Hill Climb Challenge. I PRed by over 5 minutes! The next weekend I raced the 4 mile Golden Gate Park Cross Country race with the Impalas. I was tired, but I hit another PR. I dove right back into big mileage, staying primarily on trails and regularly topping out at 70+ miles per week. I had the NYC Marathon and the Quad Dipsea looming on my calendar, and wanted to keep my good momentum rolling. I jumped into the San Jose Rock n’ Roll Half marathon in early October, and what do you know? I ran another PR! This one was a huge surprise because I had done zero specific training and barely any road running.
And here’s where we loop back to the beginning, about my body talking loud and clear. After the 50k I paid up to get an MRI on my hip. Seeing the extent of damage to the labrum could influence my treatment and possibly lead me on the path to surgery. The results of the imaging were unexpected: I did not have a tear in my labrum, but I do have an impingement in the joint with some major cartilage damage. The doctor looked me right in the eyes and told me that the cartilage will continue to deteriorate until I have severe arthritis. I could get surgery to shave down the femur head, but there’s nothing that can be done to fix the cartilage.
I had entered a new reality. This is not an injury that will go away after some rest. This is a forever injury. And it’s taken until just this very week for me to accept that new reality. I was being stubborn and greedy with my body. I wanted to keep training and racing like nothing was wrong! But here’s the truth: I am constantly aware of the injury. It doesn’t always hurt, but it’s always there. My hips ache when I sit for too long, and my legs are sore in weird places because I’m compensating. It takes me 4 or 5 miles to feel warmed up now, and if I stop, my legs stiffen up quickly. It sucks.
Sometimes, when I’m deep in the pity party, it feels like my body is betraying me. I’ve put in so much work to avoid injuries and here I am stuck with something that can’t be fixed. I am having to learn all over again how to listen. And it’s hard. So what does this mean for my training and racing? Well, for one, I am dropping out of the Quad Dipsea. It’s been a very long and satisfying racing year for me, so I am done after NYC. I welcome the off-season and look forward to taking time off.
My plan over the next few weeks and into the new year is a big change from what I’m used to. And I have to be okay with that if I want to see any progress! This is going to require a shift in my perspective. I will be doing the majority of my running on trails, which I’ve discovered can actually lead to faster road times. I will be utilizing pool running a lot more for recovery, especially on post-track days. I will have to let go of my “high mileage” mindset and be okay with doing less. I will have to stay diligent with my strength training and mobility work. I will be a lot more grateful for my running on days my hip doesn’t hurt and will try harder to remember the real reasons I run (see first paragraph). Most importantly, I will respect what my body is telling me. That means tuning in rather than tuning out. That means adapting on the fly and changing workouts as I go. That means staying present and focused. It’s too easy to zone out and grind through the uncomfortable. It’s what I’ve trained myself to do. This is going to be a whole new type of challenge.
In a little over two weeks I will race the New York City Marathon with 55,000 other runners. I will get a tour of the five boroughs and will be cheered on by hundreds of thousands of spectators. I will run hard and fast. I will soak in the energy. And I will appreciate every single step my body allows me.